Jesus Christ's Baptism
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17. Jesus Christ's Baptism

Dominical Sacraments

WavesThere are two "dominical sacraments." These are baptism and holy communion. Being dominical, from the Latin "dominicalis" and "dominus," means "being of the Lord" or "given by the Lord." The dominical sacrament of baptism was commanded in Matthew 28,18-20, "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" Holy Communion is ordered by Jesus in Luke 22.19-20, "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

Baptism Site

The baptism site of both Jesus and St John was most probably at Al-Maghtas, located in the Jordan Valley west of the Jordan River, five miles north of the Dead Sea, and six miles southeast of Jericho. It is otherwise known as Bethabara, and is now a World Heritage site. The name "Bethabara" appears on the 6th century Madaba map and in the Talmud. It is also shown in the 1849 Jordan River Lynch Map and the 1944 Palestine Survey map as a ford with a convent. Another traditional site of Jesus' baptism is a place called the Ein Hanya Spring. Other scholars place the baptism site at the Dhirweh fountain near Halhul, a Palestinian city located in the southern West Bank, 3 miles north of Hebron. ✞

Church Focal Points

The two sacraments of Baptism and Communion became critical focal points in Church life. However, there were in the Roman Empire some variations in how the church administered them in different places. The Early Church's practice of a new believer's baptism happens today by "water immersion." The baptism of a child or infant is generally by "sprinkling with water." We can examine these contrasting practices best in the conversion experiences of the Ethiopian eunuch and later the Philippian jailer.

The Ethiopian Eunuch

An angel told Philip to go from Jerusalem to Gaza to meet an Ethiopian eunuch, the Queen's treasurer, returning home from Jerusalem. "Candace" or Kandake is the Ancient Greek term for "queen" or "royal woman." "Ethiopian" was a Greek term for black-skinned peoples generally, often applied to the land of Kush (or Cush,) an ancient territory near the Red Sea. Cush is identified in the Bible with ancient Ethiopia, which was well-known to Hebrews and frequently mentioned. The eunuch was not from the land today known as Ethiopia, which corresponds to the ancient Kingdom of Aksum. Aksum conquered Kush in the fourth century. The first writer to call it Ethiopia was probably Philostorgius around 440 AD. ✞

Stephen Met the Eunuch

In Acts 8.27, we read, "So he (Stephen) started, and on his way, he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship." He was sitting in his chariot reading Isaiah 53.7-8, which says about the Messiah, "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet did not open his mouth, they led him like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep, before its shearers, is silent, he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment, they took away. Yet who of his generation protested? He was cut off from the land of the living. For my people's transgression, he was punished."

Taken by the Spirit

Philip then asked the Ethiopian, Do you understand what you are reading?" He said, "how can I understand unless I have a teacher to teach me?" He asked Philip to explain the text to him. Philip explained the Good News, and the Ethiopian asked for baptism. They went down into a water source, traditionally the Dhirweh fountain near Halhul, and Philip baptized him. Some manuscripts add that the Ethiopian said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" in Acts 8.37, but most modern versions omit it, for apparently, the better manuscripts do not support it. After this, in Acts 8.39, Philip was suddenly taken away by the Spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch "went on his way rejoicing" Acts 8.39. ✞

Simeon Bachos the Eunuch

In Ethiopian Orthodox tradition, the Ethiopian Eunuch is referred to as Bachos, an Ethiopian Jewish man Simeon also called the Black. This term is also used in Acts 13.1, "Now in the church at Antioch, there were prophets and teachers. Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been raised with Herod, the tetrarch, and Saul." Some scholars, such as Frank M. Snowden, Jr., interpret the story as emphasizing that early Christian communities accepted members regardless of race: "Ethiopians were the yardstick by which antiquity measured colored peoples." ✞

The Missionary Bachos

In his book, "Adversus Haereses" or "Against the Heresies," the Irenaeus of Lyons in 180 AD, wrote regarding the Ethiopian eunuch. He said, "This man, Simeon Bachos the Eunuch, also went into the Ethiopian regions to preach what he believed. He asserted one God according to the prophets, but God's Son had appeared in human flesh and led as a sheep to the slaughter, and all the other prophetic statements made regarding Him."

Colored Person

Gay L. Byron says that Luke used the Ethiopian eunuch to indicate salvation could extend even to Ethiopians and Blacks. David Tuesday Adamo suggested that the word used here, "aithiops," is best translated as "African." Rembrandt's painting "The Baptism of the Eunuch" from 1626 AD shows the dark brown complexioned eunuch kneeling beside Philip next to a water source. A similar picture, "The Baptism of Queen Candace's Eunuch" (c 1625-1630), attributed to Hendrick an Balen and Jan Brueghel the Younger, shows the Ethiopian on one knee before Philip. He is pouring water over his head from a seashell.

Philippian Jailer

And then, we have the Philippian jailer's entire family's baptism. We read in Acts 16.25-32, "About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison. At once, all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

Inward Grace

Acts 16.32-34 continues, "Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and all the others in his house. At that hour of the night, the jailer took them and washed their wounds. Then immediately, he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them. He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God and his whole household." Acts 16.33 speaks of the Philippian jailor that "he and all his family were immediately baptized" when he believed in Christ. The jailor's family would probably have included all ages, including grandparents, infants, teenagers, servants, slaves, and even other relatives in his home. Infants and babies would have been under the household head's control and authority.

Paul's Roman Prison

Roman prisons had three compartments. One was called "communiora," which had light and fresh air. The second was called "interiora," with strong iron bars and locks. Paul and Silas, in Acts 16.25, were in the "tullainium," a top security dungeon where people went to die. Stocks held them in place, a heavy piece of wood with holes similar to the medieval British stocks into which the prisoner's feet were placed and stretched in such a way as to cause constant agonizing pain. Despite all this pain, Paul and Silas praised God and prayed! Their spirits soared above their circumstances and surroundings. Their voices rose upon the night air in that prison, "and the prisoners were listening to them."

The Philippian Jailer

The Scriptures do not reveal the identity of the jailer. Many Bible scholars believe that he was a retired veteran Roman soldier. Philippi was a significant city chartered as a "Roman Colonial City." Old soldiers sought retirement in these cities. The jailer's position was most suitable for a combat commander veteran who had proved his ability with men. A fit soldier would have been the likely choice of the Roman officials. Most likely, this was an appointed position.

Inward Grace

Jesus himself commanded baptism as one of the two most important sacraments. Different denominations have different views as to how they should perform a baptism. Baptists practice believers' baptism of an adult by total immersion. In contrast, Anglicans and Roman Catholics generally conduct infant baptism with water sprinkled from a font on a baby, infant, or adult. Some denominations practice immersion and sprinkling, which many people will be surprised to learn is the present pattern in the Church of England.

Which Kind of Baptism?

Water of BaptismThere is no essential difference between the two baptism forms except for the godparents' role in infant baptism. In mainline churches such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches, godparents promise to lead the child to faith as they grow into adult life. Then they can make their own decision for Christ at Confirmation. All believing adults, as well as their infants and children, were baptized in the Early Church. ✞

Household Patriarchs

Paul baptized the whole household of the Philippian jailor at one time. Later, during the first and second centuries, parents baptized their infants and babies. Society was dominated in early times by the household patriarchs who controlled every aspect of their families and slaves. The household head decided everyone's religion, and their baptism included every household member. There are almost certainly different practices among various groups of Christians in other parts of the Roman Empire at the same time.

Refreshing Water

The Holy Spirit comes at baptism and on many other occasions in our lives to bless us. At Jesus Christ's baptism, the Holy Spirit came visibly in the form of a dove. Baptism's sacramental water hides beneath its ripples God's flowing blessing through the Spirit's work. It is a surprising and incomprehensible truth. The Holy Spirit's work brings about the renewal and development of all creation's every atom, repeating this constantly and invisibly for all life forms. The Holy Spirit's work enlivens all creation and engineers plant and animal life's rejuvenation. Without the Spirit's work, all creation would stop cold and dead instantaneously. Behind our secular society's "mother nature" smoke screen moves the actual worker, the Holy Spirit. Mother nature never created a good harvest or a fall of rain. As the old hymn says with undeniable truth, "All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all."

Water Water!

Amazon RiverThere is a story about a boat adrift off the South American coast. The crew was dying of thirst. Another ship appeared and hailed it, asking if there was anything the crew needed. The sailors shouted back, "Water, water!" The sailors pointed over the side at the water. The mighty Amazon River's freshwater all around them poured out many miles into the saltwater ocean. Nourishing fresh water was available right under them, but they were still dying of thirst. They did not know of the thirst-quenching stream. In the same way, the Holy Spirit's work is all around us, invisibly creating and renewing both us and our environment without us scarcely realizing it. ✞

Invisible Grace

When we look closely enough, we find Christ's Body beneath the surface of many seemingly mundane objects, such as water, bread, wine, and even a wooden cross. The term "Body of Christ" is used in two different New Testament senses. It may refer to Jesus' statement in Luke 22.19-20 at the Last Supper when "he (Jesus) took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, he took the cup after the supper saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you.' We may note here that some manuscripts do not have "given for you" or "poured out for you," though it makes little difference to the meaning. The words "the Body of Christ" may also refer to the Christian Church.

Sacraments Themselves

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.27 writes, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." Here Saint Paul explains to Christians that they are the "outward and visible signs of inward invisible grace" and are sacraments themselves. There may be different interpretations by various denominations and churches of "bread and wine's meaning." Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), a prominent early Christian theologian, wrote about this in Sermon 262. "Christians are to see in the many grains, ground by the prayers of exorcism, moistened by the waters of baptism, and now united in the one eucharistic loaf, the image of themselves as Christ's Body, the Church." Saint Augustine had a very novel way of combining various sacraments into one belief statement.

New Testament Importance

Infant BaptismAll the forms of Christ's sacramental Body have immense importance for the New Testament church. At the Twenty-First Century's beginning, sacraments are also portholes into God's being. A sacrament may be a divine grace bringer, God's undeserved gift in Christ by the Holy Spirit. When rediscovered, these sacramental models will provide what we call "the church" with a deep, inspirational understanding of the Mystical Body without leading us into superstitions and heresies. Holy Spirit baptism means being born of water, followed by the Holy Spirit's baptism. Both are outward and visible signs of an independent human being's inner holy life. John 3.5 says, "Jesus answered, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can enter God's kingdom unless they are born of water and the Spirit.'"

Born of Water

"Born of water" is here variously understood as water baptism or by others as the birth waters that break from the "amniotic fluid sac." At birth, there is about one liter or 33 fluid ounces or four cups of amniotic fluid. These are initially electrolytes, but later in the cycle also contain proteins and other compounds to aid in the fetus's growth. For some Christians, "born of water" means being born in the birth waters and later born of the Spirit. "Born of the Spirit" may mean being given new life from the Holy Spirit at birth or for other Christians being converted later as an adult by the Holy Spirit's act, sometimes accompanied by speaking in tongues. The Christian church considers water baptism either by total immersion or sprinkling as a requirement for every Christian disciple.

Water and Spirit Birth

New Born's FootBirth can be viewed as the human being's initiation into life, just as baptism marks the soul's entry into the Christian life. The water's breaking signifies the change from a dependent fetus to an independent human being, from one entity in the mother to two separate existences outside of her. Holy Spirit baptism similarly witnesses the spiritual step from darkness into light. At birth, a person unceremoniously launches into human existence. At Holy Spirit baptism, a person ceremonially enters into the community of Christ's Body.

Baptism Holy Spirit

What is the Holy Spirit's role at Jesus Christ's baptism? Does baptism mark the beginning of a person's ministry as for Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove? In Mark 1.8, John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus "will baptize you with (or "in") the Holy Spirit." In John 1.33, John the Baptist says, "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit."

Jesus Christ's Baptism

In Matthew 3.11, John the Baptist says, "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Jesus Christ's baptism could be the first time anyone received the Holy Spirit's baptism.

"Jesus Christ's Baptism"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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